For as long as it’s been around, Remedy Entertainment has had a knack for developing incredibly unique games that stand out from the crowd in more ways than one, starting from the days of Max Payne all the way up to now. In fact, it’s fair to say that the studio’s most recent release, Alan Wake 2, might actually be its craziest, most ambitious, and most singularly unique game ever. The survival horror sequel has an incredibly strong identity and sense of aesthetic that sets it apart from anything else we’ve seen in gaming in a long, long time, and it goes about accomplishing that in a number of different ways. Many of them have, in fact, been abundantly evident throughout Remedy’s history.
Take the studio’s obsession with live action, for instance. Remedy has tried to integrate live action sequences in its games on a number of occasions, and the results have been inconsistent, ranging from jarring and ineffective in Quantum Break, to much more solid but significantly less emphasized in Control. In Alan Wake 2, however, the developer has finally struck the perfect balance, and it does so by taking learnings from both aforementioned titles, including not only live action projections and overlays similar to Control, but also full-on live action sequences similar to Quantum Break.
And unlike Quantum Break, those sequences fit incredibly well with the game. The transitions from live action to in-game in Alan Wake 2 feel shockingly seamless, thanks in large part to the incredibly detailed real-life sets that were built for these sequences and the excellent performances that the actors exhibit in them. And all of that is, of course, something that you don’t often see in games, if ever. It’s rare enough to see a developer trying to use live action storytelling in a game, but to see a studio actually doing it this well? That’s completely unheard of.
But Remedy’s uniqueness isn’t just restricted to Alan Wake 2’s live action parts by any means. It’s something that pervades through the entire experience. This is a studio that has built its identity on telling off-beat stories populated by even stranger characters, and that’s something that shines through in every second of its latest release as well. From the incredibly atmosphere of its Pacific Northwest setting to the extreme surrealism of the Dark Place to characters like the Koskela brothers (among many others), Alan Wake 2 takes immense pride in how weird it is.
But the area that truly exhibits just how bold Alan Wake 2 is in its storytelling, and how effectively it brings its ambitious vision to life, is its immensely metatextual nature. On top of telling its own story, this is a game that commentates on so many other things- like itself, and its own development, and how long Remedy has had to wait to get it off the ground. Sam Lake, the face of Remedy Entertainment and the writer and creative director of the series, plays a role in the game as Alex Casey, an FBI agent who, curiously enough, shares his name with the fictitious hardboiled detective that Alan used to write about before he killed him off.
That, in and of itself, is obviously a nod to Max Payne (as it was in the first game), especially with the character being voiced by James McCaffrey, who also voiced Payne (not to mention the fact that the original Max Payne model used Lake’s likeness). But Alan Wake 2 takes that even further in several ways. In one scene, for instance, we see Sam Lake appears on a twisted talk show in Alan’s broken mind, where he plays the role of the actor Sam Lake, who is the actor who portrays Alex Casey in movies based on Alan’s books. It’s utterly surreal, and has just so many layers to it- and just one of many such examples that can be found throughout the game.
Admittedly, stories trying to be meta is something that can easily backfire- in fact, it almost always does, and there’s no shortage of examples of stories across all media that can’t seem to tell the difference between being meta and having an excessive amount of fourth-wall breaking winks and nudges that compromise the integrity of the narrative. That is not the case at all in Alan Wake 2, however. The game tells its own story first and foremost, and when it is being meta, it does so in such a way that it all fits incredibly well with its own central narrative. It helps, of course, that surrealism and bizarre blends of fiction and reality have always been core tenets of the Alan Wake franchise.
On top of that, Alan Wake 2 is also a part of the Remedy Connected Universe, something else that deserves to be mentioned, because again, we don’t often see too many shared universes in games (at least not on this scale). There’s no shortage of connections with Control to be found throughout the experience, to the extent that it very much feels like a game that’s not only directly following on from the events of the first Control, but is also setting things up for its inevitable sequel. Does that also make it a little bit inaccessible to those that haven’t played Remedy’s past games? Maybe, on paper, at least. But to the game’s credit, it does a solid job of standing on its own two legs even if you’re coming in completely blind. Maybe you won’t get as much out of it as you would if you have played Control and past Alan Wake releases, but you’re still going to have a great time with it nonetheless.
Of course, mechanically and structurally, Alan Wake 2 can be described as a fairly ordinary survival horror experience (for the most part). Similar to genre classics like Resident Evil, Silent Hill, or Dead Space, the game places an emphasis on things such as exploration, backtracking, resource management and conservation, and the like, all of which are things that have been staples of the survival horror genre for as long as it’s been around. But even on the gameplay front, the game manages to find ways to do some very unique things.
The majority of that can be found in Alan’s sections, which are set in the Dark Place. Exploring this twisted, dream-like version of New York is easily one of the game’s highlights. It’s drenched in atmosphere and brought to life with stellar visuals and an incredible level of detail, but more to the point, it’s also an environment that players can (and do) manipulate through their own actions. Both through his lamp and his writing, Alan can make the environments around him change in several ways, and that is something that never gets old throughout the game’s runtime. We saw Remedy doing similar things (to great effect) in Control, and Alan Wake 2 continues to showcase the studio’s unmatched talents in this area.
In an industry that’s become increasingly risk-averse, Alan Wake 2 feels like a rare, miraculous gift. The amount of time and money that developers and publishers have to pour into games has ballooned out of control over the years, and with this much at stake, very rarely do we see games that dare to break conventions and try unique, experimental things that you would ordinarily only see in smaller indie productions. To see Remedy sticking to its guns and believing in itself by throwing its full weight behind an idea that couldn’t be farther from your typica definition of mainstream is incredibly heartening, and we can only hope that the success the studio has been enjoying with its bizarre, unforgettable projects will encourage others in the industry to follow suit.
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